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Medical schools, including Upstate, see spike in applications

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Upstate Medical University
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The pandemic has stretched the nation’s healthcare workforce so thin that states like New York have had to bring back retired healthcare professionals and fast-track graduations for medical school students, but new data shows that help is on the way.

In a surprising but very welcome twist in this pandemic saga, applications to the country’s medical schools have actually increased in the last 12 months. At Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, they are up 26 percent from 2019. Yet if you ask recent SUNY Geneseo graduate Cassidy McGinn, there’s nothing surprising about it at all.

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Credit Cassidy McGinn
Cassidy McGinn says the pandemic did not deter her plans to pursue a career in medicine, it affirmed them.

"If you know anything about med school students, it's that they are persistent, it's that they are courageous," McGinn said. 

McGinn decided to apply to Upstate Medical in her senior year, back in 2019. Then,  COVID-19 struck. Rather than prompting the 22-year-old to reconsider her plan to pursue a career in medicine, it reaffirmed it.

"One thing I've learned from being a pre-medical student and applying to med school, you need grit, and you need resilience, and you need to be able to dive head first into the unknown, and that's what a lot of physicians had to do,' McGinn said. "This pandemic came quickly and it was evident we didn't have the proper PPE, we were understaffed in a lot of hospitals, they didn't have a lot of resources." 

Dr. Lawrence Chin, Dean of Upstate's College of Medicine said students across the country and those currently enrolled at Upstate view challenges like these as opportunities to rise to the occasion, inspired by those on the frontline in central New York and beyond who are doing just that.

"I think what has really sparked the imagination and the spirit is really seeing the possibility and the power of being a healthcare professional," Chin said. "I think they see how quickly we mobilized, created the vaccine, how quickly we were able to establish accurate testing."

That includes the COVID-19 test Upstate developed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently named the most accurate saliva test in the world. People like Chin say these kinds of breakthroughs and figures such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, have created what's called the "Fauci Effect" on young people.

"You can’t ever say it’s just one person - there are so many people involved at the federal level, at the state level, and at the local level, but he [Fauci] is a symbol, emblematic of the kind of example of really what we’re trying to do at academic institutions like Upstate," Chin said. "We’re following the science, we’re using science, we’re paying attention to the health issues, to the social issues."

Among those issues are the health inequities and disparities that the pandemic has exposed, like how Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than white Americans even though that community represents a smaller share of the country's population. Chin said these future medical professionals want to be part of the team that puts an end to such problems.